Thursday, October 30, 2008

Yeah, I Know

I haven't posted in awhile. But I will soon! And it's not like one of those times where I say I will and don't. This time, it's true. I really, really mean it. And there will be lots of posts. I know I've been slacking. I'm well aware. (But it doesn't mean I haven't been productive in other areas!)

Thursday, October 9, 2008

This is the Part Where I Bang My Head on My Desk

Ever write a bunch of stuff only to have the program close out before it's saved properly? Sucks, doesn't it?

It just happened to me -- well, sort of. I did save it, but stupid me tried to rename the file it was saved under. And that's apparently a big no-no. So, now, what I was working on is now lost, but it's not much of a loss. It wasn't that good.

Back to the drawing board!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Ever-Important Antagonist (aka Villain)

Does your villain scare you? Good. Because if s/he doesn't, then they won't scare anyone else.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here and should probably start from the beginning.

Firstly, let's look at what makes a good villain. A good villain (or antagonist, per technical jargon) is the flip side to your hero/protagonist. They are trying to thwart your hero; conversely, your hero is trying to thwart them too. Hero and villain may have the same goal or the opposing goal, but the antagonist is a negative force which keeps -- or at least slows down -- your protagonist from reaching their goal. (If they didn't do that, they wouldn't make a good villain, would they?)

Secondly, a villain doesn't necessarily have to be evil, per se (though it draws a darker line between them and your hero if they are and tends to make the story interesting). If your story is about a group of teenagers, the popular Jesus-freak cheerleader might be the villain. After all, she's a snob and is mean to your protagonist. She tries her best to make them look stupid, be miserable, and to thwart their plans. She's rude, self-centered, and extremely vapid. However, she's not exactly evil. She has no intention of killing them or making them truly suffer. She's just a bitch.

On the other hand, if your story is about a dashing young space captain, your villain might be some evil alien overlord bent on destroying Earth. The stakes are bigger, obviously, so you have to make the villain more evil to match it. If the stakes are high and the villain isn't very evil, then it's not very compelling or believable. The alien overlord doesn't HAVE to destroy the Earth. No one's forcing him. (If they were, then he wouldn't be the main villain -- they would.) He's choosing to do so per his own agenda (for whatever reasons). And he doesn't care about the billions of lives at stake. Someone who is that cold and heartless is obviously evil or at the very least extremely demented. (Extremely crazy also works for the villain. Crazy people aren't necessarily evil. In a story with high stakes, you've got to make the villain's reasons believable. No one in their right mind would do something like destroy a planet unless they were extremely insane or very cruel.)

A good villain is just as believable as a good hero. I cannot stress it enough. If your hero is awesome, but your villain is lacking, your story stinks. No one wants to read about a hero fighting the dumbest villains ever. They want your hero to be challenged. They want to know how the hero will make it out of this (whatever "this" is) intact. If they don't feel the hero is in some sort of danger, they won't care to read the story.

The rules of character creation apply the same to the villain as the long as you make your villain, well, more villainy. There's all sorts of ways you can take a villain. You could make him troubled and misunderstood or you can make them just plain cruel. They can be super serious and bent on destruction or slightly humorous (but not too humorous, or else no one will take them seriously). They can be young or old, frail or strong -- so long as they're a real threat to the hero.

And, as I said at the beginning of the post when I was getting ahead of myself: if your villains scare you, then good. Maybe they'll scare someone else too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Character Creation (for those who like to know every little detail -- like me)

As mentioned before, some people like to just fly by the seat of their pants when they write (and it works out better if they do). I am not one of those people. I need some sort of framework or else my stories go off on horrible pointless tangents. The same can be said about characters.

In short of filling out a 300 question myspace survey for your character (which I've done before -- true story!), you can simplify things.

The Writer's Shorter Survey For the Fiction Character



Birth date: (This is important because your character's age and birth date can matter very much unless it's a modern story. By that, I mean your character can be sixteen. If it's set in 2008, your character might be born in 1992. But if your story is set in 1808, your character would've been born in 1792. This matters, because to really know your character, you have to know what situations they were born into. The world was very different in 1792 than it was in many ways, even more so than the differences between 1992 and 2008. So, keep it in mind.)

Hair Color:

Eye Color:

Skin Color/type:



Tattoos and other body mods/scars:(All of these are important when describing your character. If your character is a rough bad boy, give him a scar. It could be tied to his past.)

Relationship status/love interest:


Job description:



Friends: (or sidekicks)

Enemies: (can be mundane or supernatural -- even their own demons)

Favorite Foods:

Least Favorite Foods:

Favorite Television shows:

Types of music enjoyed:

Talents/special abilities:



Personality description: (Come at it from every sort of angle you can think and I will probably detail this later when I am thinking.)

If you can answer all of these questions about your character, they will start to feel like a real person. If they feel real to you, chances are, they will feel real to others. And a character will never matter if they don't seem real. No one wants to read a character who lies flat on the page. They want someone who, even if they share very little in common, they can at least identify with and care about.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

For the Kings and Queens of Three Word Sentences

Never underestimate the power of a good narrative. No matter how good the idea for your story is or how engaging you think your characters are, the narrative has to be there.

When writing, it's very important to develop a certain flow. I don't claim to have mastered this myself (I think there are even famous writers out there who haven't done such a good job either), but I know what works and what doesn't.

Example of a no-no:

I went to the mall today. I wanted to look for something nice to wear for my date. I didn't find anything. Then I ran into my friend Leslie. She was very mad about something her boyfriend said.

Okay, it's a very short snippet. Even though it shows action, it's not very good and is as dull as dirt. If you actually read it, you were probably thinking the same thing. And there are many reasons for that.

The flow is poor. The paragraph has an awful flow, mainly because the sentences don't vary in length and the word "I" is said far too much.

Rules to make this better:

1. Never overuse the word "I" or any other noun or pronoun. It makes the flow choppy and uninteresting. Furthermore, it gives the idea that someone without a strong command of their native tongue wrote it.

2. If all of your sentences are roughly the same length, it further adds to choppy-ness. Just refer back to the paragraph. They're all about the same length. When you read it, it forms an annoying rhythm in your head. That being said, don't make all of your sentences long either. It annoys the reader as well.

Remedy: Mix things up in a natural way by making sentences vary in length. If you listen to yourself speaking, you don't speak in such a stilted manner. Some of your sentences are long; others are short. If you speak correctly (or close enough) aloud, try writing as though you're talking. That's what I've always done. Sometimes it leads to grammatical errors, but it definitely helps with flow.

Another thing -- and this is something that every writer should know -- is that when you write something that you intend others to read, read it aloud! I can't stress it enough. When you read it aloud, you will read it as though others will and more often than not, you'll find yourself all like "wtf".

There's more wrong with the paragraph though. It's boring. Yes, there is action. But it's boring. It's not something someone would want to read -- and that's the thing, isn't it? You, as a writer, have to make people want to read your work. They aren't just going to read it because you worked long and hard on it. Even your friends won't read it if it's dull. That's just how it goes.

So, the remedy? Add description. Describe the scene and use words that pop to enhance visualization and add substance and relevance. If you do this, it'll make your reader want to read more.

Here is where I try to fix the paragraph using the rules and remedies I laid out:

I went to the mall around two o'clock this afternoon to look for something to wear on my date with Billy. Eternity was spent going through every store, thumbing through endless racks, and hoping for something that would make him drool -- something so edible it'd make him want to rip it off with his teeth.

By four o'clock, my search was still fruitless. Perhaps I was picky, or perhaps my local mall had a narrow selection. Either way, the situation remained the same and our date was in three hours. Just as I was drowning myself in my own sorrows, I ran into Leslie. Her face was bright red and her fists were clinched. She began muttering about Algernon and I resolved to listen, as the prospect of finding my dress in time was completely and utterly hopeless.

Okay, so not a good or interesting fix, but I did use my rules! Even though my improved example was not great, you can still see that it is, in fact, improved. I added length and details to my story to make it more readable.

You learn more about the protagonist -- not only about what she's doing, what her angle is, but also how she thinks. You know what she wants: she wants to find a dress so pretty as to make Billy rip it off with his teeth. And she can't find the dress. But the details give the reader the sense of conflict that they didn't in the first example. And if you can only remember one thing about story writing, remember: There has got to be conflict!

If you go through your story and find it reads very much like my first example, apply my rules and just see if it helps. Add descriptions and use words that force the scene to pop into the reader's head. If you do, you will be pleased with the results.

-The Writer

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

How to Make a Character Matter

Characters are what drive your story. You can have the best plot idea in the world, but if your characters suck, no one will read your story.


Your character's name is Jane. Jane is an office worker. She is thirty. She doesn't have a boyfriend or any hobbies so to speak, but she has an interesting insight into the world around her.

Here's the thing about Jane: she doesn't matter. She lies lank on the page and while she has a basic background, she's still very two-dimensional. No one really cares about Jane.

As mentioned in my last post, you have to think about your characters and if they pose any relevance whatsoever to the story. The first step is to make them relevant, as previously discussed. After that, you have to dig deeper.

It's not necessary to know everything about your character to write a story. But it is necessary to know everything about them if you want to write a story rich with detail, full of characters that people care about. That is your goal for your characters. You want to create characters that people will care about. You want to make your characters matter.

Going back to Jane, it's true. She doesn't matter -- not yet, anyway. But she can. She can matter very much.

Dig deeper into the basic details you know about her. She works in an office. Where exactly does she work? What is her function there? How does she feel about her job? Does she get along with her co-workers? Does she have enemies? What about obstacles? (A good story must have obstacles.)

Jane is thirty and single. Has she ever had a boyfriend? Why or why not? Is she interested in anyone? Is anyone interested in her? Why would they be interested in her? Make her interesting in her own way. Make her someone someone would want to be interested in, even if she is a geek and walks around with pencils stuck in her hair and runs in her stockings.

Tell us more about Jane. Tell us exactly how she looks. Think of every little detail about her. Figure out her exact physical appearance. If her hair is brown, what color brown is it? She has brown eyes -- describe them. Make her stand out from all the other girls with brown hair and brown eyes.

Tell us more about Jane's personality. That will dictate how she deals with conflicts both external and internal. If Jane is very shy, she is not going to call her enemy out in front of everyone in the office without some major provoking and character development.

That being said, Jane will have to evolve (or devolve) in the story. She can't stagnate. Think about the end of your story. Where do you want Jane to be? Think about that and map out the emotional and physical journey she will have to take to get there. If she has not changed for better or worse by the end of the story, you have wasted your time. And believe me. I know that one of the worst feelings when you're a writer is to write two-hundred pages about nothing special.

But anything can be saved. I'm a firm believer in that. Jane can be saved. Give her depth. Make her real. Give her obstacles. Let her overcome some. Let some overcome her. Let her be happy. Let her be sad. Let her feel as though her world has ended, only for there to be a happy ending (or conversely, let her be on top of the world to have everything shatter). The choice is yours. You can do anything you want with Jane. You want Jane to mean something, then you better make her have meaning. Give her a purpose. Give her a story. Make her matter.

And that, my friends,is one of the most important elements to story-telling. I know it might sound like a reiteration of my last post, but it's not. Relevance and mattering are different things. You can be relevant, yet not matter. Think about Paul. He was relevant to the plot. But if he wasn't interesting and engaging, he wouldn't mean much. No one would care about him. Your characters have to not only be relevant, but they have to mean something.

-The Writer

Characters and their Relevance

Have you ever created a character that was really cool, interesting, and witty, only to realize that your character had no relevance whatsoever to the story you were wanting to tell? Yeah. Sucks, doesn't it?

Usually, there is a way to save your character and make them not only important to the story, but what binds it together entirely.

Let's say you have created a character. We will call him Paul. Paul is 34 years old and a forensic scientist. He's a habitually single and a bit of a womanizer, but with a heart of gold. You decide that he is the perfect protagonist. He is someone who has a complex and interesting voice to tell your story through and you're very sure your readers will like him.

However, there's a problem.

Your story is about an alien invasion. Suddenly, you're faced with the question of how Paul even invaded your story in the first place. After all, this isn't a story about a womanizing forensic scientist. This is a story about an alien invasion.

The first thing you must do is try to think of how Paul could fit into the world and story you're creating. What would his purpose be? Stretch your imagination as far as you can, and you will be able to think of something.

Think about his profession. Paul is a forensic scientist. How might that be relevant to an alien invasion? Think. Think very hard.

Paul is called into a crime scene. The inspectors are baffled as to what really killed Maria Velasquez, an up and coming pop diva. The scene is like nothing they've ever seen before, and Paul is the best of the best at solving strange and unusual crimes. For Paul, there is always a logical explanation, even if it doesn't seem so to everyone else.

When Paul gets there, it is the strangest crime scene he's ever seen. Maria's body looks as though all of the blood has been sucked out. It's dry and mummified. To make matters more bizarre, she's covered in a thick green gooey cocoon. Paul says outwardly that there is a logical explanation, but deep down, he knows things look weird. He takes some samples back to his lab and discovers the green goo is like nothing seen on the planet. He then endeavors to go on a quest to find out what really killed Maria Velasquez and that's when he finds himself in the midst of an alien invasion.

Having studied the crime scene and knowing more about them than anyone on the planet, Paul is Earth's last hope to defeat the evil fiends. And that is why Paul, a womanizing forensic scientist, should be in your story on of an alien invasion.

Always think of a character's relevance to the story you're trying to create!

Many people think of a story idea before they start to develop characters. If you're this sort of person, it's very important to keep in mind your character's main point. They have to have a reason to be in a story. If a character has no reason to be in the story, you should stab him with your ink pen before he makes it into the rough draft. However, keep in mind that if you stretch your imagination far enough, even the most seemingly unrelated things can intertwine in a relevant way.